More Than Skin Deep…

Last September I had the opportunity to visit the Newcastle University Anatomy Laboratory for a cadaver tour. I had the opportunity to attend an anatomy lab many years ago as part of my massage therapy study, but I have always been keen to learn more. The tour was organised by a dear friend and amazing pilates instructor, educator and physiotherapist Lisa Anthony. Lisa is dedicated to development of pilates instructors and to a deeper understanding of the human body. She has created Access Anatomy. As someone who is passionate about the development of recent Pilates graduates and Pilates students, I am so thankful to have been invited to her first tour!

A few car loads of eager pilates instructors showed up at Newcastle University bright and early on a Sunday morning to get stuck in to our anatomy- literally! After donning our gloves, glasses and aprons our wonderful guide Doug showed us around the lab.

Access Anatomy Newcastle University
Access Anatomy Newcastle University

We had two hours to examine prosections of different kinds. Lisa organised for us to access to prosections of the major joints of the body as well as the abdominal area and the spine.

The amount of work put in by the anatomists and laboratory technicians is really amazing. It is hours and hours of work for us to be able to differentiate the many layers of muscle. Being able to see the nerves passing through the body as well as veins and arteries was amazing. I think most of us were taken by the thickness of the sciatic nerve passing through the spine into the glutes!

The thing that many of us were quite struck by was the opportunity to understand scale. I heard many times- “wow! I didn’t realise that would be so big/small” or “that wasn’t as I imagined it”. I found the scapula quite beautiful. It is so thin and has so many muscles attached to it. The force that it can withstand is impressive!

Many of us in attendance had been teaching pilates or practicing physiotherapy for many years and we felt that it really brought things into perspective in terms of why certain movements have the effect they do. For the participants new to the industry the feeling was that the experience would really spring board them into their teaching practice.

The things I found most fascinating:

  1. The Diaphragm- Wow! What a massive piece of tissue the diaphragm is. I don’t think I was ever truly able to visualise the proximity to the pelvis. In hindsight it seems obvious as the space between the thorax and pelvis is not very large but even still- I think in my mind the diaphragm somehow sat around the bra strap! Clearly, knowing your origin and insertion points doesn’t always seem to translate into what you see in your mind’s eye. The other thing about the diaphragm I found both amazing and beautiful was it’s texture. It actually reminded me a bit of the ITB. Again, when you think about it- it is constantly in motion, of course it would be strong. But somehow, the picture in my mind was a delicate, fragile tissue.
  2. The Ankle Joint- just so cool. The way the tibia and fibula glide against the talus is pretty impressive engineering. Looking at the joint in this detail has completely changed the way I cue dorsiflexion. I feel very restricted into this range of motion and it is so tempting to just push the heel down and over activate anterior tibialis and friends. Now I think of the way the hinge glides and give the front of the ankle as much room as it needs. It should be noted that I love the foot and ankle complex and that others may not find it quite as fascinating as this geek…
  3. Quadratus Lumborum and the Abdominal Wall- How could I possibly ignore this? While I expected the diaphragm to appear thinner, I must say I expected the abdominal wall to be thicker. I think this is due to the amount of force our lovely abdominal muscles generate despite the obvious fact that we can all feel past our muscles into our digestive organs quite easily. Seeing how deep the QL sits finally gave me perspective as to why it is grouped as a muscle of the posterior abdominal wallย  and not the back. WOW those little guys are hidden away so deep and still manage to make themselves heard when they want to!

So, the word of warning… I paint a rosy picture. I LOVE ANATOMY but this environment can be confronting for many. I was very happy to get my gloved hands all over the muscles and tendons and was engrossed in the bio-mechanics very quickly. Others who stood back found it a bit much. After all, these were people who lived amongst us and were once somebody’s friend or relative so there is a degree of letting go required to get the most out of this experience. If you can create that separation, you will learn so much and your teaching will be changed forever.

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